(Pocket-lint) - The home speaker market is increasingly saturated these days, what with the glut of affordable smart speakers from the likes of Amazon and Google. It might make you look at the new Naim Mu-so Qb 2nd Gen's £749 price tag and gulp rather hard. That's a whole Sonos multi-room setup right there, right?
So why would you consider forking out such a princely sum for a single speaker unit? Well, the sound quality, but of course. As we thought about the the original Naim Mu-so Qb: it's got a silly name, but its silly-good sound and sublime industrial-like design make it standout for all the right reasons.
We've been living with the Naim Mu-so Qb 2nd Generation for a week and we've already fallen for it. Will you, too?
So what's new for mark II?
- Apple HomeKit for Siri and Google Home for Google Assistant control
- Grille colours: Black (included) / Peacock, Terracotta, Olive (£50ea)
- Naim's Hi-Res multi-room streaming platform
- New DSP (digital signal processor)
- AirPlay 2, built-in Chromecast
- Remote control in the box
- New Command Dial
- New drivers
First thing's first: how does the 2nd Gen model differ from the first? To look at you'll struggle to see a great deal of difference, after all.
The principal thing is the Command Dial up top. This light-up wheel - which can spin infinitely and is used to adjust volume and settings - is now proximity activated and doesn't display its light-up symbols prominently like before. It's also got a new layout, which makes selecting from various inputs and options easier. It's the same one as the one you'll find on the larger Mu-so 2nd Gen.
Indeed, a lot about the Qb 2 is the same as its larger brother. No, it's not got as many speakers and doesn't sound as almighty as a result, but the Qb 2 adopts the new interior components, new drivers, a new DSP (digital signal processor), Naim's multi-room streaming platform, Apple AirPlay 2, built-in Google Chromecast, plus voice control via HomeKit and Google Home if you use Siri or Google Assistant.
Oh, and let's not forget: the Qb 2 now features a simple remote control in the box. Which might not sound like a big deal, but for a speaker like this we think it's rather important. We've been using it all the time, despite app control also being possible through whichever source you've connected.
In summary, then, the 2nd Gen Qb isn't dramatically different to the first. And it is £150 more than the original. So if you see the two side-by-side then, well, we wouldn't blame you for picking the original to save some cash. The newer model's Command Dial is far nicer and the additional connections are great to see here, but the price is almost knocking on the door of the original full-size Mu-so.
Design & Features
- Connections: 3.5mm in, USB-A (2.0), optical S/PDIF (up to 96khz), Ethernet (to 100Mbps), Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n/ac)
- Streaming: AirPlay 2, Chromecast, UPnPTM, Spotify Connect, Tidal, Roon Ready, Bluetooth, Internet Radio
- Dimensions: 210mm x 218 mm x 212mm / Weight: 5.6kgs
- AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect, Tidal, Google Cast
- Anodised aluminium case
There is another new feature about the Qb 2: the default black wrap-around speaker mesh can be switched for other, brighter colours. Each is an extra £50, but if you want a dash of 'Peacock' colour to your living room then it's a great look.
Otherwise the design is much the same. But that's just great. Think industrial chic; its cube form - hence the 'Qb' name, of course - visually soft on three sides thanks to that mesh, while the fourth edge is harsher with its exposed, almost serrated form aluminium edging.
To the bottom edge is a perspex-like base, including a light-up Naim logo, which can be set to full brightness, dimmed or switched off if you find it distracting. Footed on certain surfaces it looks superb kicking out a little touch of light. The Command Dial up top, which also illuminates, can be set to a dimmer setting too.
Around the aluminium side is where you'll find all of the physical ports. This is a plug-in only speaker, so if there's no mains power then you won't be getting any sound. No surprise given its 300W output. But just don't think of it as a portable Bluetooth speaker - it does have BT connectivity if you wish to use it, but it's certainly not an active portable.
Other ports cater for 3.5mm in, optical, and Ethernet if you're hard-wiring. Otherwise the dual 2.4/5GHz Wi-Fi will see you good for connections, which now includes Apple AirPlay 2 for easy connectivity. We suspect most will use the Naim app, Spotify Connect, UPnP and similar to pull content from streaming services or NAS drives in their homes.
- New DSP (digital signal processor) capable of running at 2000 MIPS (instructions per second)
- 4x 50W, 1x 100W for 300Watts of power
- Up to 24-bit 384kHz native bit rates
- Multi-room functionality
The real reason to buy a Naim product is sound quality. Not because it ticks the Hi-Res Audio boxes and can cater for up to 24-bit file formats (it can, FYI, people with audiophile ears). No, because it just sounds sublime.
If you own an original Qb then, well, we don't think you'll find the Qb 2nd Gen sounds all that different. But seeing as the original was kicking from a solid starting point, that's no bad thing. Perhaps the most sonically tuned ears would be able to spot the differences from the new - and allegedly 13 times better - digital signal processor (DSP), but for us it's all about the clarity and the impact and the musicality.
All of which the Mu-so Qb 2 delivers in buckets. The way the drivers push sound out in a pseudo-stereo format gives a broader soundstage than you'd get from a simpler Amazon or Google product. The way high-quality acoustic tracks sound that much more present in the room, yet hyper-produced dance tracks still maintain that compressed wallop of bass. The Qb 2 is a versatile little speaker that delivers weighty audio.
There's bass that has grunt, too, without being overly dominating. We would like some more low-end, given how the full-size Mu-so handles such frequencies, but at this size it's not a total surprise that the Qb 2 doesn't have much sub-level impact. Still, low frequencies are clearly of importance, as Naim has a dedicated amplifier for the woofer inside, to deliver the cleanest sound.
If you're new to Naim, know nothing of the original Qb, and are looking for a stunning looking and sounding little home speaker then the Mu-so Qb 2nd Gen is a dream match. It's far classier than the glut of current smart speakers, more audio adept than the Sonos line-up... but it ain't half pricey.
So is the second-generation Qb worth the cash? There's no doubting just how great it sounds. So in that regard, yes, fill your boots (and empty your bank account in the process) to live in sonic nirvana. On the flip side of that, Naim's first-gen products continue to be sound investments for less.
If you want latest and greatest, though, we find the Qb 2's deft Command Dial control and heaps of connectivity options to form the perfect melting pot between audiophile quality aspirations and the ease-of-use that many modern listeners also depend on. The Qb 2 can do it all.
Naim Mu-so (original)
If you can find the original full-size original Mu-so - which is a lot larger, but you can find for under its £895 on-sale RRP these days - then that extra cash would result in a massive audio upgrade over the Qb. So long as you have the space to position one in your home, of course.
You won't see CNC milled anodised aluminium looks here, but the Sonos is a chunk cheaper and still sounds great.